Atlas Obscura can be fun. When I’m going to a city where I know most of the big attractions, I check to see if this website that finds offbeat places lists something Ruth & I might enjoy. For example, it found the Church of Cannabis in Denver. Atlas Obscura isn’t universally successful at locating “unusual attractions” worth visiting, but I have learned that about half of them are generally worth checking out when I have extra time. In Salt Lake City they suggested visiting the Pioneer Memorial Museum for its “bizarre artifacts”. When Ruth and I went there recently, we experienced 3 shocks.
Shock #1; we had been there before. Shock #2; I liked it much better the 2nd time. Shock #3: the Pioneer Memorial Museum proves that Mormons hold on to everything. When we were in Salt Lake City with Australian friends a few years ago, we discovered this museum that boasts about “having the world’s largest collection of artifacts on one subject”. We didn’t linger long the first time. On our 2nd visit my reaction segued from “oh, no, not again” to a genuine respect for this museum’s show-me mission. Ruth felt differently. When I found something really worth seeing, I would go and find her. This became easy because she was always in the same spot playing with her iPhone. This Atlas Obscura recommendation shows clearly that Mormons never have garage sales. “Pioneering was no easy feat,” Atlas Obscura concluded after listing several weird artifacts including a bloodstone that Brigham Young believed had magical properties.
The Pioneer Memorial Museum on Main Street near the State Capitol, the most beautiful one among the 50, is the work of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Most of its memorabilia is from the time when Mormon settlers loaded wagons in Nauvoo, Il, and headed west. As I entered it, I began listing what I saw: watches, embroidery, lamps, entire parlors, more 19th century organs than anywhere else on the planet. I soon grew tired of the old-fashioned “show everything” attitude and concluded that there’s a photograph of every single Mormon who ever lived somewhere in this museum. Meet Elmira Miller. I was not at all surprised to see purposeful Mormon ladies working in the back archives.
When I had my fill of endless family photographs, I went out to the lobby and asked the ladies in charge to name Mormons who became nationally famous. One man who was, like me, a visitor really became engaged by this subject and contributed several names to my list. Not surprisingly, Mormon families came first to our collective minds: The Huntsmans, Romneys, Osmonds, Marriotts, the King Sisters, the Eccles. Eccles? Yes, indeed. After a long pause, individuals were recalled: John Browning, Phineas Farnsworth, Ezra Benson, Gladys Knight. Gladys Knight?
My admiration for this eclectic collection grew when I saw its doll collection, “Rosy” (the most beautiful steam fire engine in existence), and the actual wagon that Brigham Young rode in on his way to Utah in 1847. Apparently, just seeing tons of artifacts leads to collective appreciation.